Monday, August 26, 2013

Butting Heads Over NFP

The butting of heads in the NFP battle goes on...and on…and on. It goes like this: I write unfavorably about NFP; I get criticism from NFP proponents who ask for justification of my views; I repeat the same line of thinking I’ve laid out here on the blog and in my book, Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom? 

[Super deal: use code XJN2V4WV to get a substantial discount on a print copy of the book at this website.]

Sometimes – often, actually – it seems to me that the two sides are talking past each other. “They” don’t seem to get what I’m saying, and I’m sure it appears to “them” that I don’t get what they’re saying.

That begs the question: why?

I think Fr. Chad Ripperger supplies at least a partial answer in his 2001 article in Christian Order entitled “Operative Points of View”.  Fr. Ripperger discusses the “bigger picture” of disagreements between “traditionalists” and “neo-conservatives” (see footnotes 1 and 2  in the article for his definitions of those labels), which he attributes to “the relationship each position holds with respect to ecclesiastical tradition”. He develops this argument quite convincingly, I think, and I encourage you to read the entire article (there’s quite an education to be had in the footnotes!). He summarizes the difference between the two positions this way (my emphases):

…[T]he fundamental difference between neo-conservatives and traditionalists is that the neo-conservative looks at the past through the eyes of the present while the traditionalist looks at the present through the eyes of the past.

In thinking about the arguments NFP-promoters have used against me, I believe that is exactly what I am seeing, time and time again. I see NFP and TOB supporters leaning heavily on post-Vatican II documents while sometimes seeming to casually dismiss Fathers and Doctors of the Church like Aquinas and Augustine. Referring to popes as recent as Pius XI and XII even meets with resistance, on occasion. Fr. Ripperger’s article shed some light on that for me. He wrote (emphasis in original):

Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking, i.e., the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture(41), intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neo-conservatives i.e. their perspectives regarding the role of ecclesiastical tradition and how the current magisterium relates to it.

It seems to me that these different “operative points of view” are very evident in just about every “discussion” that has taken place in the comment sections of any of my posts on the topic of NFP.

A supportive commenter on this blog, who has also published important articles on Humanae Vitae and other topics, used an analogy that I think illustrates Fr. Ripperger’s analysis quite well.  He was addressing in particular the question raised by another commenter: "Why alienate that 2% of people [that is, those using NFP instead of artificial contraception]who are striving to follow Church teaching albeit in a different way than might be preferred?" His answer was:

What we are told
…We all know and we all agree that the Church has lost the 98%.

Imagine that there is a great ocean liner like the Titanic. It is sinking and all the people try to get off. Unfortunately, 98% of the passengers drown, but 2% are able to get onto lifeboats. Now a generation has passed, and the passengers on the lifeboat think that being on a lifeboat is normal, and they do not remember that there ever was an ocean liner, or if they do recall the days of the liner, they are told about how horrible it was back then, and how much better off they are on the lifeboat. The fact that 98% of the passengers were lost and eaten by sharks does not dismay them as long as they are part of the 2% on the lifeboats. 
Which highlights two problems with the lifeboat approach: 1. Only a small handful are saved and the vast majority are consigned to perdition. 2. Even for the small handful, life is not normal. The passengers were never intended to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a lifeboat. But they do not realize the incongruity of their position since it seems normal to them.

To make the allegory more pertinent, we need to remember that "periodic continence" was always permitted at best as a lifeboat. It was always supposed to be an emergency escape hatch. It was never intended to constitute normal everyday practice.

To understand the view of Dr. Boyd and Fr. Gardner, one has to imagine that the ocean liner never actually sunk at all. Despite the panic of the passengers and crew which led them to abandon ship, the ocean liner is still there. The true boat, the original boat, the boat that can hold all the passengers in the world, the boat that will be able to get you across the ocean instead of wandering aimlessly, the boat that has everything that is necessary for an ocean voyage and not just a bare minimum for survival, that boat is still available for anyone who wants to avail themselves of it. 
The crew of the lifeboat will try to scare any passengers who try to return: "No, don't go back," they will say, "The ocean liner was a terrible place. There were 1st-class and 2nd-class passengers back then, but today we are all equal on the lifeboat. The captain ordered 'Abandon ship,' and you will be disobedient if you go back."

In order to leave the lifeboat and return to where he belongs, a passenger first has to overcome his shock at realizing that the ocean liner didn't sink despite everything that he has been taught his whole life. He has to trust his eyes and say, "Look, I see it right over there." Then he has to overcome the fear-mongering that will try to keep him from returning. But when he finally arrives at the ship, imagine his astonishment to see that the band is still playing, faithful passengers and crew have kept everything operational. The ship will still take him across the ocean to the other side. And it will do so with beauty and decorum and generosity in place of the ugliness, wretchedness, and deprivation that characterized life wandering aimlessly in a lifeboat.

This little allegory rings true for me! How many times have we all heard that “Latin was abolished” or that “using Latin in the Mass is taking a step backwards”! Those who “discover” the extraordinary form of the Mass discover that the ocean liner is still there. And once they discover that, they seem to open up to other “discoveries” about authentic Catholic teaching in a number of areas, such as ecumenism, the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation…even the desirability of a large family! They discover that hell is real and Heaven is a much better place than anyone ever told them before.

Yes, turning to the EF Mass and embracing tradition opens up a whole new world: a supernatural world that has been lost to many in today’s Church with its dreadful catechesis and protestantized world view.

Maybe we will never get the two “operative points of view” to see eye-to-eye. Maybe these operative points of view were the cause of the problems with Vatican II in the first place – rather than a consequence. I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that Fr. Ripperger was on to something in that article 12 years ago, and those operative points of view continue diverging today.

Something has to change, or we’re never going to get our little lifeboats back to that ocean liner.


  1. Thought you might like the following quote from St. Augustine (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17). "I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility. . . . Assuredly if both husband and wife are like this, they are not married, and if they were like this from the beginning they come together not joined in matrimony but in seduction."
    I use this in teaching MFP-moral family planning. Very instructive, don't you think?! KC

  2. Dr Boyd:

    I don't know how you manage to keep writing about the NFP issue without giving in to despair. You deserve credit.

  3. Yes, KC, interesting quote from Augustine.

    Aged Parent - LOL! Yes, I admit I am tempted to despair at times, but I get enough encouragement to help me continue. Sometimes I get emails from people who want to let God plan their families; they are fortified by my posts, they tell me. That helps me keep going, too.

  4. I also admire your spirit though we disagree on how strict one should be. Regards.

  5. Maybe you could invite me as a guest blogger of sorts in order to put NFP in a different perspective. If you are interested in a more "hard line" approach that is. I have a script roughly prepared but no place to post.

  6. Samantha, I'm not sure we would necessarily disagree over "how strict" we should be. The main point is that "serious reasons" are required for the use of NFP. If we just agree that any reason is "serious", that still leaves the question of what form of birth control to employ to prevent pregnancy...

    I'd be happy to see what you've got in terms of a post. Please email it to me at Thanks!

  7. Do you know Randy Engel´s book „The McHugh chronicles"? If not you should read it. It´s about Sex Ed introduced in catholic schools with the help of Bishop McHugh and about his role in introducing NFP.
    Here´s the first Chapter online: Especially interesting is page 18.
    The fifth chapter is named “Bishop McHugh and the natural family planning follies

  8. Martina, thanks for the link; no, I don't believe I have seen that book. I look forward to reading it.

  9. Oh my! What a dilemma. You know I support your position on NFP and I subscribe to the basic arguments against using NFP. But the perspective of the "trads" vs the "neo-cons" raises a bigger issue: Who, What, Where is the RC Church? Is it those on the boat or those in the lifeboat (or those that died and went to heaven-I was ok with the analogy until the boat reappeared and then I got confused about who was good and who was confused (other than me)).

    I printed out Fr. Chad's article (including the footnotes-which I like to read anyway) and have browsed through it. It is the kind of writing that would take me several runs throughs to get a firm grasp of the key points.

    My understanding so far is that the neos got short-changed by not having the proper ecclesiastical traditions passed on to them and the result was a collective ignorance. I think the article is just a long-winded way of saying the neos are not as smart and perceptive as the trads. And in the end, Fr. Chad hands it over to Divine Providence.

    So where does that leave those of us caught in the middle (like kids in messy divorce)? The trads would say (imply) the behavior of the neos is the road to perdition. But how can a just God condemn the ignorant who are acting in good faith? And what is the responsibility of the institutional hierarchy who jettisoned the traditions that the neos need to really know what it means to be a good RC? And these clergy (not the trads) are running the show, steering the boat. Looks like 2 to 3 generations have completely missed the boat and have just walked off the dock into the deep but haven't realized it yet. I'm glad that I decided to walk.

  10. Fred, the point is that there are people who have been misled by bad catechesis, but that the Truth of the Church is still there. Some people “discover” it on their own, by reading or whatever. Others have it pointed out to them, but refuse to believe it. A lot of people are somewhere in between, some starting to “see the light”, others shutting their eyes real tight to avoid it.

    But the only ones who have “walked off the dock into the deep” are the ones who have left the Church completely. Ahem. There are still lifesavers available though, and the people on the lifeboats are still throwing them out to those who are trying to make it across the ocean by swimming.

    As for the responsibility of the institutional hierarchy?! Well, we covered that with the help of the last couple of Vortex episodes. We need to pray for them.

  11. Coincidentally (?), the scripture reading of the day from the program I am reading (Scripture Union's "God's Word Today") is from the Book of Judges, Chapter 2:6-23. Seems like it sums up very succinctly the state we are in.

    ...a later generation arose that did not know the LORD, or what He had done for Israel. The Israelites offended the LORD by serving the Baals. Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had led them out of the land of Egypt, they followed the other gods of the various nations around them, and by their worship of these gods, provoked the LORD.

    Because they had thus abandoned Him, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth, the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel, and HE delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them. He allowed them to fall into the power of their enemies round about whom they were no longer able to withstand. Whatever they undertook, the LORD turned into disaster for them, as in His warning HE had sworn HE would do, till they were in great distress.

    They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken, and did not follow their example of obedience to the commandments of the LORD. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, He would be with the judge and save them from the power of their enemies as long as the judge lived; it was thus the LORD took pity on their distressful cries of affliction under their oppressors. But when the judge died, they would relapse and do worse than their fathers, following other gods in service and worship, relinquishing none of of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.

    Does that sum it up or what?


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